October 31, 2016

Amaranth Harvest and Other Seed Crops

Here is my amaranth harvest for 2016.

A small Golden Giant amaranth head.

That's it. One small head of amaranth seeds. But even that was a surprise, because I thought the entire planting was bust. I planted a large bed of amaranth last spring, but that was before our two months of upper 90s and no rain. After we finally got rain, no amaranth grew and the little plot was soon overgrown with everything I didn't plant.

Amaranth is usually easy to grow and relatively heat and drought resistant. Both greens and seeds are nutritious as human food, but I especially grow it for animal feed. It is rich in protein, calcium, copper, and is a good source of lysine, an amino acid (which makes it a good protein balancer for corn, which we also grow but is low in lysine).

Both chickens and goats will eat the seed heads, which require virtually no processing. I store whole heads in large trash cans and toss them to the chickens who peck the seeds out. For the goats the heads can be chopped or the seeds roughly stripped (I just pull the head through a gloved hand). If the stems are chopped or broken to small pieces the goats will eat that too. Leaves can be fed either fresh or dried (which I add to my DIY mineral mix). The stalks can be chopped finely and fed as bulk in a homegrown feed mix.

The one plant that made it was stunted and pretty much hidden in the weeds. I didn't notice it until we were getting ready to turn the goats into the garden. Like my lone hope sweet potato I'm considering it a seed crop and am grateful for at least the one head. It will give me a lot of fresh seed to plant next spring, when I can hope for a better year and an abundant harvest.

Three other seed crops have been field corn,

Truckers Favorite open pollinated corn

cowpeas,

Ozark Razorback cowpeas

and cushaw squash.

Cushaw winter squash, harvested from an unexpected place.

Of the corn I planted only a small patch for the purpose of getting next year's seed. We knew the goat barn would take up all of our time and so chose not to plant our usual quarter acre of corn. Corn seed is only viable for a year or maybe two, so being able to have fresh seed next year was important.

The cowpea harvest would have been more abundant if we'd gotten good rainfall, but at least I have some. Like the corn it feeds us plus our critters, so it's something I like to grow every year.

The cushaws were volunteers! In the buck pasture of all places. I fed rinds, pulp, and seeds to pigs and goats, who both had access to the buck pasture. I'm guessing they spread the seed in their manure. Even while the pasture was drying up I watered these vine's with leftovers from the goats' water buckets. They are small for cushaws, but will provide a good amount of winter squash eating for Dan and me this winter (with more rinds, pulp and seeds to feed).

On the bright side, this year we were plentiful in blueberries, figs, apples, pears, almonds, acorns, and pecans. Strawberries, peaches, raspberries, and elderberries weren't record harvests, but I got plenty for pies, jams, jellies, and ice cream.

Winter gardening may be a bust this year too. We've only gotten a quarter inch of rain in the past two and a half months, so my garden soil is either powder or hard as a rock. Hopefully things will change soon.

So how is everyone else's harvest doing? Do any of you have a fall or winter garden in the works?

26 comments:

  1. So sorry about your lack of rain! We've had a good year, I've canned more than ever in my life. We have yet to produce our own grain, so I buy flour which I hate but next year...there is always next year. AND I love your new blog background. What a beautiful farm.

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    1. Donna, it's great that you've had good rain and have been able to can so much!

      I have to say that this has probably been the least productive year we've had since we've been here. And no rain in sight!

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  2. I have plans to grow some grains next year, I've had some friends have great success with quinoa so I might try that along with poppy seeds (I could use a bin full with my bread cooking!). I like the idea of extra grains for the chickens as well.
    As for seed saving be careful that you're saving from a large enough gene pool. Some plants it really doesn't matter (like tomatoes or peppers) but some, like sweetcorn, suffer from inbreeding depression. Sweetcorn seed needs to be saved from a minimum of 50 - 120 plants or within a couple of years the yields will dramatically drop and it'll become more susceptible to disease and pests.
    It's one plant I buy the seed for each year as then I know I could always save the seed from the ones I grow but I also know that I have a large gene pool to start from.

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    1. It's funny you should say that Kev, because I've started on a post for that very subject. In fact I've planned to buy more Truckers Favorite seed this spring to mix with my saved seed. (I'm assuming field corn would be the same as sweet corn. )

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    2. You know as I wrote it I thought I was going to teach you to suck eggs! I've become a bit obsessed with seed saving and learning about it (even if I haven't done as much of it as I would have liked). I'll look forward to your post on it!

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    3. Kev, not at all! This is a new one for me so I'm researching and learning. I hope you're blogging about what you're learning too! I learn the most from people who have similar interests and motivations.

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  3. Have you heard of the Eden method of gardening? There is a YouTube video called Back to Eden Gardening Method with Starry Hilder. It stuck in my mind because she said they didn't have to water it (they live off grid very rurally). Might be worth checking out.

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    1. I've only seen the "Back to Eden" with Paul Gautschi. This was the first year we had enough wood chips to actually try it and for our garden I'd have to give it a mixed review. I still had to water some plants, but I think another factor was soil temperature. Our daytime highs were near 100°F all summer and eventually my soil temperature was above 90°F; probably too hot for much of anything to be happy.

      The other problem I had was that our "wiregrass" (a wild bermudagrass) poked right on up through a thick layer of cardboard and 6 - 8" of wood chip mulch anyway. I'm in a bit of a quandary of what to do with these areas, because they are still thick with mulch and I need soil for planting seeds. If I cover to smother again, it may be too deep for gardening.

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  4. I didn't do a fall garden. I will next year. My current garden is still producing tomatoes and peppers. I am setting up compost piles in my yard, my goal is to use that to enhance my garden beds. The soil here is very sandy.

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    1. That's a great idea about the compost piles. Sandy soil certainly does need a lot of organic matter to retain moisture. (Our clay soils need it too, but to loosen the soil to not bind the plant roots!)

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  5. We are eating greens like Tatsoi, spinach, mustard and kale.....small but tasty as it has been dreadfully dry here too. The poultry are enjoying the cover crop as the pasture is dry and brown. The Turkey's really love the Sorghum Sudan grass and it is handling their grazing very well. We have not tried Amaranth but it is on our list for 2017.
    I love the list of what you have grown!

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    1. The sorghum sudan grass has been a big hit here as well. And it seemed to be fairly drought tolerant, at least the hybrid I got was. But it's all dried up now too. :( Glad to hear you're getting all those greens!

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  6. Every year, there are always winners and losers in gardening. If you don't have a few losers, you aren't being honest or don't have a big garden. We had a bumper year for tomatoes (finally) but had a poor year for pumpkins. The prior two years we had poor tomato crops and bumper pumpkin crops. That's the way it goes!

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    1. Ed that is so true. I'm really hoping for some good crops next year!

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  7. I got a bumper crop of cucumbers, but they all got too big for pickles. I think I have enough carrots, beets & onions for a few batches of veggie broth, but that's about it. bummer garden year. :(

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    1. Wow. I confess that I'll cut big cukes down to size for pickles! Or they become cucumber relish (with garlic and onion, YUM!)

      All in all, it has been a bummer garden year, hasn't it?

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  8. Fall planting? Ha! I did that in July and even then didn't get anything but the bed of salad greens to produce. (And they did very well.) My peas didn't do a thing and I really wanted more peas put by for the winter. But our summer garden was a total success. Lots of everything we needed except for beets which is crazy 'cause we can usually grow any root crop up here in northern Minnesota with ease. Carrots were skinny, but plentiful. We had ample amounts of rain all summer . . . such a shame you've had to deal with your drought. When that happens, there's not much you can do beyond a certain point. As we gardeners always say, there's next year to look forward to.

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    1. Well, count your blessing while you've got them! It's exciting to see that somebody's garden did well. You have had so much cold weather in the past that I'm glad you did well this year.

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  9. The heat is starting to turn up here, so things are starting to dry out. I've had problems growing amaranth in the past, for the same reasons you have.

    I know my problem is, we're too exposed. In fact, any place that doesn't receive regular rainfall, will be too exposed, if it doesn't have some kind of shade or wind protection to retain moisture in the ground.

    You may have to find a more suitable plant to grow, so you don't get caught out when a seed crop for your animals, fails. This plant would be a native shrub, which can survive harsh conditions, and still produce a crop of seeds.

    In Australia its the wattle tree (acacia) which fills this niche. It's also a nitrogen fixer, so it benefits the soil. They don't live very long (about 5 years) but they do at least "live" and produce, when the annual crops fail.

    If you look around your neighbourhood, or in neighbouring wild areas, for what the native birds are feeding off - that's what you can transplant into your garden and be assured something will produce in those bad years, so you still get to reduce your feed costs.

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    1. Most of what I've planted in terms of "landscaping" and my hedgerow have been native plants to our area. Even so, until they get a good root system established they seem to struggle if it's dry. My annual vegetables have been selected by trial and error, but even some of those have their off years. Everything seems to have its off years! Makes for interesting fluctuations in diet, doesn't it. :)

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  10. My grading project is finally finished (done by a land shaping genius friend). My healing process, however, is not. I just have to wait. The pumpkin patch was watered by the overflow from the spring-to-sheep-to-ducks set up or I would have had zero. 13 pumpkins and a random butternut squash. I planted acorn, but as seed from hybrid is not true, there you have it. The fruit patch was overrun by erosion and weeds. I am not capable yet of working out there, so it will just have to be. I am planning amaranth in the flood plain adjacent to the pumpkin patch. Do you rotate your winter squash?

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    1. I find that with some seeds too, they don't grow true, and this is even with supposedly heirloom or open pollinated. I think part of it has to do with what Kev mentioned, growers often narrow their gene pools inadvertently.

      I rotate everything, but it doesn't seem to keep things bug and disease free.

      I'm so sorry your healing has been so slow! I know it must be frustrating.

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  11. Leigh,

    Sorry to hear about how dry it is out there. My fall garden is totally a bust I guess you could say. We've broken the complete garden down in preparation of putting everything back to the way it was before we moved here. I need to pick up grass seed to lay down come Spring. Our plans are to move if everything works out properly.

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    1. Sandy, it's great to hear from you! How exciting about your plans. I hope it all goes well.

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  12. Amaranth seems like something I need to try out! Searching online now to find somewhere I can get seeds in mainland europe

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    1. I believe it's a South American crop but there are Asian varieties as well. You certainly may be able to find it in Europe. It's an attractive plant and a useful food crop as well.

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